Inside the insectary - "These gene drives, they're able to copy themselves. So instead of half of the offspring inheriting the gene drive, almost all of them do. So what happens is that it spreads and it spreads and it spreads. And this is the fantastic thing. Because it allows that gene to be selfish in a population. And in a very short amount of time you can actually transform an entire wild population into a modified population. It's powerful." (previously: 1,2,3)
From deities to data - "For thousands of years humans believed that authority came from the gods. Then, during the modern era, humanism gradually shifted authority from deities to people... Now, a fresh shift is taking place. Just as divine authority was legitimised by religious mythologies, and human authority was legitimised by humanist ideologies, so high-tech gurus and Silicon Valley prophets are creating a new universal narrative that legitimises the authority of algorithms and Big Data." [more inside]
Logic hacking - "Writing shorter and shorter computer programs for which it's unknowable whether these programs run forever, or stop... the winner of the Busy Beaver Game for N-state Turing machines becomes unknowable using ordinary math - somewhere between N = 5 and N = 1919." [more inside]
Alaska is Having Its Hottest Year Since Records Began - "After a spring that was a full ten degrees hotter than normal, the northern state is on track for the most sweltering year on record." (via) [more inside]
In his follow-up to Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari envisions what a 'useless class' of humans might look like as AI advances and spreads - "I'm aware that these kinds of forecasts have been around for at least 200 years, from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and they never came true so far. It's basically the boy who cried wolf, but in the original story of the boy who cried wolf, in the end, the wolf actually comes, and I think that is true this time." [more inside]
Eighteen months after removal of the last chunks of two dams on Washington State's Elwha River, an event marked on Metafilter by this brilliant post by edeezy, the Seattle Times documents the remarkably fast recovery of the Elwha ecosystem, from headwaters to saltwater. Complete Seattle Times' Elwha coverage
Sleepy gorillas make their nests in Kahuzi-Biega National Park. You can visit these gorillas by going on a virtual gorilla trek in Democratic Republic of Congo!
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari - "The book delivers on its madly ambitious subtitle by in fact managing to cover key moments in the developmental history of humankind from the emergence of Homo Sapiens to today's developments in genetic engineering." Also btw, check out Harari on the myths we need to survive, re: fact/value distinctions and their interrelationships.
The world's coral is suddenly and rapidly starting to die - "This is only the third time we've seen what we would refer to as a global bleaching event. [The prior events] were in 1998 and 2010, and those were pretty much one year events. We're looking at a similar spatial scale of bleaching across the globe, but spanning across at least 2 years. So that means a lot of these corals are being put under really prolonged stress, or are being hit 2 years in a row." Can 'manually breeding supercorals capable of living in increasingly inhospitable waters' help in time? (via/via)
Raimondi had recently found himself undergoing an unexpected and not entirely desirable career shift: He had been thrust into the role of sea star detective. Though he is a marine biologist who divides his time between analyzing data and conducting research trips along the Pacific Coast, Raimondi is not entirely ill suited to the part. There is a private-investigator quality to his round, inquiring face, active eyes, and urgent, impatient voice.
Chris Crowe has a girlfriend. She stands a leggy 5 feet tall, weighs a trim 11 pounds, and sports a set of wings like you’ve never seen. Walnut the white-naped crane is the most genetically distinct endangered crane on the block — which means she needs to have been making babies, like, yesterday. Walnut was raised by humans at a zoo, and as a result, she recognizes and trusts humans — and is deeply hostile to other cranes. How hostile? She killed the two male cranes that her former keepers attempted to pair with her. "I like to jokingly tell people that Walnut ‘allegedly’ killed two male cranes," Crowe says. "It’s not like she was tried and convicted. We don’t know her side of the story."
If other horses are the equivalent of feral dogs, then the Przewalski’s horse is a wolf. In its native Mongolia, where it goes by the name takhi, it is known as the father of horses. Mongolians regard the takhi as spiritual, holy animals, and for millennia they largely left them alone... The trouble all began in the late 19th century, when the Western world finally took note of the takhi. Nikolai Przewalski, a Polish-born explorer serving as a colonel in the Russian army, “discovered” the horses during an 1878 expedition to the Mongolian-Chinese frontier. Naturally, Przewalski named the horse after himself, and when he returned to the West, word quickly spread among zoos, adventurers, and curio collectors about the mysterious wild horses.
That's right - it's time for Mammal March Madness! "Battle outcome is a function of the two species' attributes within the battle environment. Attributes considered in calculating battle outcome include temperament, weaponry, armor, body mass, fight style, and other fun facts that are relevant to the outcome. These are one on one- head to head combat situations- um except for the mythical mammals that have multiple heads. Some random error has been introduced into calculating battle outcome & the amount of that error is scaled to the disparity in rankings between combatants. Early rounds, the battle occurs in the better-ranked species' habitat (home court advantage). BUT once we get to the ELITE EIGHT, battle location will be random: forest, semi-arid desert, intertidal zone, or snowy tundra." Action kicks off on March 9 with the wildcard match up between the pygmy jerboa and the bumblebee bat (Kitti's Hognosed Bat). You can follow the action on twitter using the hashtag #2015MMM or on the blog Mammals Suck. In the meantime, start filling out your brackets - common names or binomial nomenclature.
The folks at the Duke Lemur Center are helpfully offering you the opportunity to figure out: what kind of lemur are you? [more inside]
A genet in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park in South Africa has been photographed by camera traps for several weeks running, riding around on the backs of cape buffalo and rhinoceros . Researchers agree: this is weird! (via.) [more inside]
Linda Gormezano, a researcher with the American Museum of Natural History, studies polar bear ecology by collecting and analyzing polar bear feces. "One thing I didn’t mention is I don’t find the scat, my dog Quinoa finds it." via.
UN Climate Report: We Must Focus On 'Decarbonization', and It Won't Wreck the Economy - "The basic message is simple: We share a planet. Let's start acting like it." [more inside]
Network Theory Overview - "The idea: nature and the world of human technology are full of networks! People like to draw diagrams of networks. Mathematical physicists know that in principle these diagrams can be understood using category theory. But why should physicists have all the fun? This is the century of understanding living systems and adapting to life on a finite planet. Math isn't the main thing we need, but it's got to be part of the solution... so one thing we should do is develop a unified and powerful theory of networks." (via ;)
Oliver the green moray eel loves to be petted. With small children, a fish popsicle, and commentary about barracudas. (SLYT) [more inside]
John And Hank Green (previously), amusing youtube teachers of world history and biology have finished the first cycle of their educational series Crash Course (previously) and have wrapped up mini lessons on Literature and Ecology. Now they've just started two brand new series on U.S History and Chemistry (to come). Outtakes.
State of the Species: Will the unprecedented success of Homo sapiens lead to an unavoidable downfall? [Via]
"...by persisting in the false belief that coral reefs have a future, we grossly misallocate the funds needed to cope with the fallout from their collapse." In the New York Times, ecologist Roger Bradbury argues that it's too late to save a big chunk of the Earth's environment, and that we should instead spend our resources getting ready for the challenges we'll face once that part of the world is destroyed. Marine scientists offer varying opinions on how doomed the reefs are, ranging from "Yep, they're doomed" to "If we stopped increasing CO2 concentration in the atmosphere today, they would probably stick around in some more or less degraded form" to "it’s clear to me that corals as a group of living things will almost assuredly* construct glorious reefs in millenniums to come of unimaginable richness."
(Sunday night arthropod terror filter): YouTube user memutic has uploaded several dozen high-quality backyard video recordings of exotic insects, arachnids, crustaceans, and millipedes native to Central America, Southeast Asia, and the US. [more inside]
The life and times of Tom Eisner, father of chemical ecology, photographer, musician and champion of environmental and human rights
Thomas Eisner, a Cornell biologist best known for his extensive work (PDF) with chemical ecology, passed away on Friday, March 25th, 2011. Eisner was more than a "bug guy," he was one of the "original guiding lights" in the study of chemical interactions of organisms, most often focusing on insects. He also was a photographer, pianist and occasional conductor (PDF), and conservation activist. More on his fascinating life inside. [more inside]
Five years ago this week, the BBC started broadcasting one of the most extraordinary documentaries ever to grace television: Planet Earth. The culmination of five years of field work, it employed the most cutting-edge of techniques in order to capture life in all its forms, from sweeping spaceborne vistas to shockingly intimate close-ups -- including many sights rarely glimpsed by human eyes. Visually spectacular, it showcased footage shot in 204 locations in 62 countries, thoroughly documenting every biome from the snowy peaks of the Himalayas to the lifegiving waters of the Okavango Delta, a rich narrative tapestry backed by a stirring orchestral score from the BBC Concert Orchestra. Unfortunately, the series underwent some editorial changes for rebroadcast overseas. But now fans outside the UK can rejoice -- all eleven chapters of this epic story are available on YouTube in their original form: uncut, in glorious 1080p HD, and with the original narration by renowned naturalist Sir David Attenborough. Click inside for the full listing (and kiss the rest of your week goodbye). [more inside]
How does an ecosystem rebound from catastrophe? Thirty years after the blast, Mount St. Helens is reborn again. Interactive Graphic: Blast Zone. Also see National Geographic's feature article from 1981, chronicling that year's eruption. Previously on MeFi [more inside]
What Invasive Species Are Trying to Tell Us. "Walking snakeheads, carnivorous snails, and the superpredator from the reef: The invasion has begun." [Via]
Scientists at the Auckland Museum will be performing a necropsy of a great white Shark between 11am and 1pm New Zealand time on Thursday. Though they will be examining the contents of its gut, they will also, among other things, look at its sex organs (female) and jaw. The necropsy will be viewable on the web from 2pm NZ time (when's that?). [more inside]
Mushrooms Save the World (long form) -- Paul Stamets on mycelia. Previously: 1 2 3 [bonus: slime molds]
Hunting the Hidden Dimension. You may be familiar with fractals, but in this PBS Nova episode, divided online into 5 parts, fractals go beyond the impossible zoom of the Mandelbrot set. Scientists are using fractals to describe complex natural occurrences, like lava, capillaries, and rain forests. In part 5, scientists measure one tree in the rain forests, and the distribution of small and large branches mirror the distribution of small and large trees. Fractals, it seems, are nature.
Yale Environment 360 is an online environment magazine from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. It has a lot of great material, like "Biodiversity in the Balance" by Carl Zimmer and "Carbon’s Burden on the World’s Oceans" by Carl Safina and Marah J. Hardt. [Via Zimmer's blog The Loom]
Tens of millions of brittlestars have been discovered inhabiting the peak of a sea mount in the Macquarie Ridge south of New Zealand. Strong currents are believed to be responsible for sweeping their predators away, more or less recreating their home 300 million years gone....
West Nile virus and Avian influenza and Chronic wasting disease, oh, my! (and Monkeypox...) Outbreaks of disease in populations of wild and domestic animals, having such a heavy impact on human health, has led the United States Geological Survey and the University of Wisconson to develop a way to track news of disease outbreaks around the planet: The Global Wildlife Disease News Map.
It's 15:00 UTC. Do you know where your Common Toads are...? World on the Move.
Public concern over ecological damage inflicted by human activity has led to growing recognition of the general importance of issues relating to biological science. Unfortunately, the dispute between creationists and upholders of the theory of evolution tends to overshadow public discussion of other more pertinent matters. Specifically, there are significant but relatively unpublicized initiatives underway to promote holistic approaches to biology. The Nature Institute in New York is one such initiative... [more inside]
Altered Oceans: A Primeval Tide of Toxins The fireweed began each spring as tufts of hairy growth and spread across the seafloor fast enough to cover a football field in an hour. When fishermen touched it, their skin broke out in searing welts. Their lips blistered and peeled. Their eyes burned and swelled shut. Water that splashed from their nets spread the inflammation to their legs and torsos.
Play with a virtual ecosphere. [Flash].
We're finding new fauna in some of the most heavily-populated areas on earth. It sort of makes you wonder what how many species we never even know about as we slash and burn great hunks of the rain forests, wooded areas, and other biodiverse areas of the world. (And good grief, those bugs are huge!)